Across the Atlantic to the Americas
This Naval History continues on from: "George Anson"
It’s impossible here to write the whole history of this massive
business of premeditated cruelty, which started many centuries
before the periods we are referring to. Our intention is to
highlight the trading of “Black Ivory,” as it was known as in
The slave triangle represented the largest displacement of human
beings of all times. For the Europeans the slavery business
really took off in the fifteenth century. The slave trade was
eventually legally structured in France by the 'Code noir', an
official order of proclamation, issued by King Louis XIV in 1685.
Before the great voyages of discovery, Europe saw itself as the
centre of the world. But on its southern fringes, in African,
Ethiopia. Which was generally designated as the land of "men with burnt faces."
When the slave trade actually took off, it was because many
Europeans, wanted to make their fortunes quickly, at whatevere the price. One country fought to take the slavery trade from another country, navies fought one another until their ships overpowered the enemy's for their cargo; usually people intended for slaves.
Even in those days a few voices were raised, condemning the
enslavement of people in the name of morality, but those voices
had no political sway, and the politicians contented themselves
with ratifying, and some profiting from an evil that had been in
place for many centuries.
A Highly Unpleasant And Repungent Business
The first side of the triangle was the exportation of goods from
Europe to Africa. To sell or barter with, and then to purchase people for slaves. It didn't take long to work out which items were the most sought after; and which proved to be the most
African kings or Tribal Leaders who took a leading part in the
trading of people for slavery. Became some of the most powerful
and highly respected in Africa; with money came power and when
lots of money was required, there was only one way that was easy to get it; sell thy neighbour and their's, if possible.
From 1440 to about 1833 slave trading reached its peak and stayed there for almost 400-years. Nobody knows what the real numbers were, all are calculations from some facts and a little guesswork.
For each captive, the African rulers would receive money or a
variety of goods from Europe. These included guns, ammunition,
clothing, cloth and other factory made items; but mostly they
were only interested in money.
The second leg of the triangle transported the intended enslaved
Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the
Caribbean islands. Here, they were sold on, and the money raised
bought items that were the most popular at that time in Europe.
Then the third and final part of the triangle was to return with
the goods that people were hungry for in Europe. In England large factories and even bigger workhouses were built, relying on the goods from the Americas. The items to be processed were usually the products of slave-labour on the plantations, they included spices, cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum.
Arrival Of The First African Slaves
By 1494, the Portuguese king had entered into agreements with the rulers of several West African states that would allow them to trade between their respective peoples, enabling the Portuguese to "tap into" the "well-developed commercial economy in Africa without engaging in hostilities."
Peaceful trade became the rule all along the African coast,
although there were some rare exceptions when acts of aggression
led to violence, but these were very scarce, trading for a
profit was all that was desired.
Slaves arrived in Hispaniola in 1501, after Portugal had
succeeded in establishing sugar plantations in northern Brazil.
Portuguese traders were the first Europeans to trade with the
East, and were well established before the next came along.
In 1545, Portuguese merchants on the West African coast began to
supply enslaved Africans to the sugar planters there. While at
first these planters relied almost exclusively on the native
Tupani for slave labour.
A titanic shift toward Africans took place after 1570, following
a series of epidemics which decimated the already destabilized
Tupani communities. By 1630, Africans had replaced the Tupani as
the largest contingent of labour on Brazilian sugar plantations.
Heralding equally the final collapse of the European medieval
household tradition of slavery, the emergence of Brazil as the
largest single destination for enslaved Africans and sugar as
the reason that roughly 84% of these Africans were shipped to
the New World.
Although in the begining Atlantic naval explorations were
performed purely by Europeans, members of which many European
nationalities were involved, including sailors from the Iberian
kingdoms, the Italian kingdoms, England, France and Poland.
This diversity led to the initial "exploration of the Atlantic"
as "a truly international exercise, even if many of the dramatic
discoveries; such as those of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand
Magellan; were made under the sponsorship of the Iberian
During the first Atlantic system most of these traders were
Portuguese, giving them a near-monopoly during that era, although eventually Dutch, English, Spanish and French traders also participated in the slave trade.
Portugal was overwhelmed by her powerful Spanish neighbour, and
its colonial empire shrank after being attacked by the Dutch,
French and British.
The Second Atlantic system was the tradeing of enslaved Africans
by mostly British, Portuguese, French and Dutch traders. The main destinations of this phase were the Caribbean colonies, Brazil, and North America, as a number of European countries built up economically slave-dependent colonies in the New World.
Amongst the proponents of this system were Francis Drake and
John Hawkins. The bitter experience at San Juan de Ulua in 1568,
taught John Hawkins at the end of his third venture, that there
was no future in the taking-trade; especially Spanish trade-taking where he and Drake came so close to loosing their lives.
The only way left was to take-trade in a more literal sense; by
force if needs be. And this the English soon began to do; Francis Drake is the leading figure here. It was his take-trade by force policy which was one of the causes of the Spanish Armada. The other being the beheading of the Catholic, Mary Queen of Scots.
It can only be assumed that at some time Drake dealt in slavery.
It's hard to imagine him not wanting to make easy money, when he
spent so much time risking his life to make a profit. Logically thinking the "Slave Triangle" fits him like a glove.
The African Slave Dealers
From the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries. The vast
majority of slaves involved in the Atlantic trade were from the
central and western parts of the African Continent, who were
sold by African slave dealers (all nationatities) to European
who then transported them to the colonies in North and South
America. There, the slaves were made to labour on coffee, cocoa
and cotton plantations, in gold and silver mines, in rice fields, the construction industry, timber, and shipping or in houses to work as servants.
The shippers were, in order of scale, the Portuguese, British,
French, Spanish, Dutch, and the North Americans. European-and
American-owned fortresses and ships obtained enslaved people from African slave-traders, though a few were captured by European slave-traders through raids and kidnapping.
Old World New World
The Atlantic slave trade came about after trade contacts were
first made between the continents of the "Old World"; Europe and
Africa, and those of the "New World"; North and South America.
For centuries, tidal currents had made ocean travel particularly
difficult and risky for the boats that were then available, and
as such there had been very little, if any, naval contact between the peoples living in these continents.
In the fifteenth-century however, new European developments in
sea-faring technologies meant that ships were better equipped to
deal with the problem of tidal currents, and could begin
traversing the Atlantic ocean.
In doing so, European sailors came into contact with societies
living along the west African coast and in the Americas whom they had never previously encountered. The desire to create a new trade opportunities; meant that slavery could fit that requirement.
A number of technical and geographical factors combined to make
Europeans the most likely people to explore the Atlantic and
develop its commerce. They had the drive for and to adventure out and discover new and profitable commercial opportunities outside of Europe.
In particular, European traders wanted to trade for gold, which
could be found in western Africa, and also to find a naval route
to "the Indies" (India), where they could trade for luxury goods
such as spices and other Oriental items.
Shortage of Labour
The Atlantic Slave Trade was the result of, among other things,
labour shortage. Native peoples were at first utilized as slave
labour by Europeans, until a large number died from overwork and
Old World diseases.
Alternative sources of labour, such as indentured servitude,
failed to provide a sufficient workforce. Many crops could not be sold for profit, or even grown, in Europe. Exporting crops and goods from the New World to Europe often proved to be more cost effective than producing them on the European mainland.
A vast amount of labour was needed for the plantations in the
intensive growing, harvesting and processing of these prized
tropical crops. Western Africa; part of which became known as
'the Slave Coast,' and later Central Africa, became the main
source for slaves to meet the demand for labour.
The basic reason for the constant shortage of labour was that,
with large amounts of cheap land available, lots of landowners
were constantly earching for workers.
European immigrants who settled in the Americas were able to
become large landowners after a relatively short time, thus
increasing the need for even more workers.
Although Europeans were the market for slaves, Europeans rarely
entered the interior of Africa, many disliked the thought of
entering the jungle; due to fear of malaria and other diseases,
wild animals and poisonous creatures, amd the more frightening,
fierce African resistance.
Bagamoya "I Leave My Heart Behind"
The captured slaves would be brought to coastal outposts where
they would be traded for money or goods. Enslavement became a
major by-product of internal war in Africa as nation states
expanded through military conflicts in many cases through
deliberate sponsorship of benefiting Western European nations.
During such periods of rapid state formation or expansion (Asante or Dahomey being good examples), slavery formed an important element of political life which the Europeans exploited: As Queen Sara's plea to the Portuguese courts revealed, the system became "sell to the Europeans or be sold to the Europeans".
In Africa, convicted criminals could be punished by enslavement,
a punishment which became more prevalent as slavery became more
lucrative. Since most of these nations did not have a prison
system, convicts were often sold or used in the scattered local
domestic slave market.
Chiefs who sold slaves became very rich and powerful, to the
extent they needed slaves to sell to keep the position they held. When raiding and kidnapping of other villages were unsuccessful, it wasn't unheard of for them to sell their own people for money.
It is said; when put aboard ships the slaves last words were;
Bagamoya "I leave my heart behind." They had no choice but to
obey their commands, for they were shackled together by the feet, hands and by the neck.
Their brutal guards stood over them with thorny whips made from
the tails of stingrays. A most frightening tool, with only the
the lower shaft free of thorns on the terrifying whip used for the hand-grip.
The Church Was A Major Owner!
Yes, even the Church used slaves, after-all they are one of the
biggest land-owners everywhere in the world. And perhaps they were the first large land-owners on the planet. In those days slaves were looked upon as a commodity that was readily available; we must also remember some people volunteered to be kept.
At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim
countries; from the ninth to the nineteenth. The Muslim Empire of the Middle East, was viewed as a commercial, political and
religious threat to European Christendom.
The African continent was bled of its human resources via all
possible routes. Many thousands of slaves were exported via the
Red Sea, others through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean,
many more were taken along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and it is impossible to say how many more acrossed the Atlantic Ocean.
They were purchased because the slaves were a cheap and very profitable merchandise, they were, exchanged by well-organized Africans for money, guns, iron, copper and lead, alcohol, European and Indian printed textiles, cowries from the Indian ocean, and trinkets.
It was also profitable because the slave traders could pack the slaves in tightly during the voyage, they could accept a high rate of death which was condidered as the norm. Only when alarmed people complained loudly, did they reduce their numbers, but they in fact only reduce them in order to limit their losses.
A handbill was posted on the wall which was used for advertising a Slave Auction in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 14th 1769. It went:
TO BE SOLD On Tuesday the third day of August next, A CARGO
Ninety-Four PRIME HEALTHY NEGROES, CONSITING OF Thirty-nine Men,
Fifteen Boys, Twenty-four Women, and Sixteen Girls. JUST ARRIVED, In The Brigantine Dembia, Francis Bare, Mafter (slaves), from Sierra-Leon, by DAVID & JOHN DEAS.
At one stage the trade was the monopoly of the Royal Africa
Company, operating out of London, but following the loss of the
company's monopoly in 1689, Bristol and Liverpool merchants
became increasingly involved in the trade.
By the late 17th century, one out of every four ships that left
Liverpool harbour was a slave trading ship. Other British cities
also profited from the slave trade. Birmingham, the largest gun
producing town in Britain at the time, supplied guns to be traded for slaves. 75% of all sugar produced in the plantations came to London to supply the highly lucrative tea and coffee houses there.
In the United States, the southern states lost no time in setting up segregation and racial discrimination policies as soon as they were defeated in the War of Succession.
Under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, the state of Virginia
in 1778, became the first place in the world to end the
international slave trade; it freed all slaves brought in after
The United States, acting on the request of President Jefferson,
outlawed the importation of slaves on January 1, 1808, the
earliest date permitted by the constitution for such a ban.
1865, was the year the Ku Klux Klan was created in Tennessee.
On Sunday 28 October 1787, William Wilberforce wrote in his diary: "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the
suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society."
For the rest of his life, William Wilberforce dedicated his life
as a Member of Parliament to opposing the slave trade and worked emphatically for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.
On 22 February 1807, twenty years after he first began his
crusade, and in the middle of Britain's war with France,
Wilberforce and his team's labours were rewarded with victory.
By an overwhelming 283 votes for to 16 against, the motion to
abolish the slave trade was carried in the House of Commons.
Denmark, which had been active in the slave trade, was the first
country to ban the trade through legislation in 1792, which took
effect in 1803. It was abolished in France in 1794. Britain banned the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in 1807, imposing stiff fines for any slave found aboard a British ship.
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The Royal Navy
Which then controlled the world's seas, moved to stop other
nations from filling Britain's place in the slave trade and
declared that slaving was equal to piracy and was punishable by
After the British ended their own slave trade, they felt forced
by economics to press other nations to do the same, or else the
British colonies would become uncompetitive. With peace in Europe from 1815, and British supremacy at sea secured, the Navy turned its attention to ending the slave trade by sea completely.
They established the West Coast of Africa Station, known as the
'preventative squadron', which for the next 50 years operated
against the slavers. By the 1850s, around 25 vessels and 2,000
officers and men were on the station, supported by some ships
from the small United States Navy, and nearly 1,000 'Kroomen';
experienced fishermen recruited as sailors from what is now the
coast of modern Liberia.
The slave trade is remarkable for its duration: it only came to
an end at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was
abolished in Brazil in 1888.
The last countries to abolish slavery were Iran 1928, Ethiopia in 1942, Qatar 1952, Saudi Arabia 1962, and Mauritania in 1981. It has not disappeared, however. The freed Mauritanians find it
difficult to survive independently from their former masters;
they are now kept and given a meager wage; but it is their own
For the slave their triangle was firstly; their freedom came
abruptly to an end, secondly; they were forced to work against
their will, and often in terrible conditions, and thirdly;
for most, it was death.
No slaves were to profit for their part in the European's "slave triangle."
The continuation of this Naval History will be: "Edward Peyton"
"Pirates Trilogy" $20